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Latest News - December 2014

December 13, 2014
The Incompetence of Economic Policy Makers: Why U.S. Women Are Leaving the Labor Force
Source: CEPR

The NYT seems intent on hiding the elephant in the living room. Yesterday it gave us a piece on why men are leaving the labor force, today it gives us a piece on why women are leaving the labor force.

Both articles raise some interesting and important issues. The article on women and work in particular gives an excellent discussion of how most other wealthy countries are far ahead of the United States in providing support for working mothers in the form of paid family leave, paid sick days, and affordable child care. (These are all areas in which CEPR has done considerable research.)

The failure of the United States to meet the needs of working parents largely explains why so many countries have passed the United States in the percentage of prime age (ages 25-54) women who are employed. This figure now stands at 69.9 percent in the United States. By comparison, it is 78.4 percent in Denmark, 76.1 percent in France, and 72.0 percent in Japan.

But the failure of the United States to meet the needs of working parents doesn't respond to the headline of the piece, "why U.S. women are leaving jobs behind." The answer to this question is very clearly the state of the economy. After all, the employment to population ratio (EPOP) for prime age women peaked in 2000 at 74.2 percent, coincidentally the peak of the business cycle. After the stock bubble burst and threw the economy into recession in 2001 the EPOP for prime age women declined. It bottomed out at 71.8 percent in 2004 and then started to rise as the economy began to create jobs again. It peaked at 72.5 percent in 2006 and 2007 and then tumbled to a low of 69.0 percent in 2011. Since then it has inched up gradually as the labor market has begun to recover from the downturn.

Anyhow, it is good to see the NYT draw attention to the failure of the United States to provide adequate support for working families which leads to unnecessary hardships for both parents and children. But it is seriously misleading to imply that the causes of the drop in employment of women in this century can be found anywhere other than the failed macroeconomic policies originating in Washington.

In other words, U.S. women are leaving the labor force because Alan Greenspan and other financial regulators and the economics profession were too incompetent to recognize an $8 trillion housing bubble. And they are leaving the labor force because Washington politics are dominated by a cult of balanced budgets. This cult is so powerful that even the politicians who know it is nonsense are scared to challenge it. Washington politics is also dominated by powerful interest groups (e.g. Walmart, General Electric, the financial industry) who benefit from an over-valued dollar and don't care about the millions of jobs lost due to the resulting trade deficit.

Anyhow, these macroeconomic forces are not really questionable. Unfortunately they are rarely discussed in the media. Stories like the one today and yesterday badly mislead the public by largely ignoring these forces.

 

 


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